Chances are, someone you know has or will receive a Wii or DSi this holiday season -- many people you know, if the November sales are any indication. Or perhaps you know someone who has owned one of these systems for a while but hasn't messed around with its downloadable games yet. In either case, 2010 has been a great year to introduce someone to WiiWare or DSiWare, with lots of interesting games and apps released just this year. Somehow, Virtual Console's been decent too, despite the fact that releases have slowed down to a trickle.
To begin, click one of the links below to jump to a category or simply head on past the break to peruse the guide form top to bottom.
Click on a game title to view its Joystiq game page (where available) and see more news and information about it. Note: Nintendo Points Cards can be redeemed in either the Wii or DSi Shop Channels; however, once redeemed on one of the systems, the points can't be used on or transferred to the other platform. Choose wisely!
Tip: You can gift WiiWare and Wii Virtual Console games to friends (if you have their "Friend Codes"), but not DSiWare titles.
Given the popularity of the classic-style New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and the subsequent return of Donkey Kong Country, a lot of Wii gamers are going to be down with the idea of new games that act like old ones. The WiiWare service offers several excellent choices for "neo-retro" games!
Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth (WiiWare) - 1000 Wii Points / $10
It's billed as a remake of the Game Boy game Castlevania: The Adventure, but that pretty much only comes through in the appearance of rolling eyeballs. For all intents and purposes, this is a new Castlevania game in a 16-bit style.
Blaster Master Overdrive (WiiWare) - 1000 Wii Points / $10
When Sunsoft made its big return to the Western market last year, it debuted with a Virtual Console release of Blaster Master. This sequel/remake/whatever was the perfect followup.
Mega Man 10(WiiWare) - 1000 Wii Points / $10
It's a faithfully NES-style Mega Man game, just like 2008's brilliant Mega Man 9 -- except maybe a little less brilliant ... and a little less faithful, now that it has an easy mode. Still, it's totally Mega Man.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney [series] (WiiWare) - 1000 Wii Points each / $10 ea.
Okay, so this isn't so much a retro-themed game as an actual Game Boy Advance game emulated on the Wii, but the Phoenix Wright games weren't released outside of Japan until they were ported onto the DS (and then the Wii). So for us, this is sort of like a GBA series that never was. In any case (geddit?), these games are wonderful, and WiiWare is a convenient way to experience them.
Authentic Retro Gamer
Of course, for genuine retro experiences, Wii features the Virtual Console. And despite the depressingly sparse release schedule this year, 2010 saw the arrival of some truly special games.
Now this is the kind of thing we expected from the Virtual Console back when anyone expected anything from the Virtual Console: a rare, quality game (unreleased in North America, actually) available for all thanks to digital distribution.
Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (VC: PC Engine) - 900 Wii Points / $9
WiiWare's Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth is a new game that feels like an old Castlevania, but Rondo of Blood is a genuinely vintage 'Vania that might still be new to you. And any Castlevania fan -- or action fan -- who hasn't played it absolutely needs to. It was released on PSP as part of the Dracula X Chronicles, but the Virtual Console version is the most accurate emulation.
This rather obscure arcade game from Capcom offers insight into the company before it got big -- and into the "secret origins" of a Marvel vs. Capcom 2 character (also called SonSon), whose presence in the fighter you might not have understood.
WiiWare is loaded with bizarre, experimental, unusual ... artsy games. The ones on this list aren't just off-kilter, they happen to be some of the best experiences available on the system.
Sort of a polygonal Atari game in appearance, and backed by (thankfully) catchy music in time with the level design, this is an auto-scrolling, reactive platformer like no other. Also: super hard.
And Yet It Moves (WiiWare) - 1000 Wii Points / $10
Developer Broken Rules made a really clever side-scrolling platformer in which you rotate the world as you navigate, and then it gave it a style that looks like it's made of torn craft paper.
This remake of a Game Boy Advance Bit Generations game has players controlling a vector as it races out into a black void. Developer Skip added dramatic 3D perspective shifting to this game featuring one-dimensional racers.
Tomena Sanner (WiiWare) - 500 Wii Points / $5
As a businessman running through a park, an alley, Mars, etc., you must tap to avoid fire hydrants, robots, break dancers and pink poops in your way, with the evasion more stylish the better your timing.
Yes, this is another Bit. Trip game in another category. This series defies classification, delivering wildly different experiences in every iteration, tied together by common characters and a surreal, pixelated aesthetic. This one is Gaijin Games' take on the on-rails shooter.
Of all the pointer-controlled arcade shooters on WiiWare, this one, created by Spain's Akaoni Studio, is the only one that has Snow White shooting zombies in it.
The Person Who Would Enjoy Muscle March
Rather than try to fit Muscle March into any reasonable category -- because it doesn't fit in any reasonable category -- we've just made it its own. If you know someone whose love for the absurd overrides even their common sense, here you go.
Muscle March (WiiWare) - 500 Wii Points / $5
Be-speedoed bodybuilders run in single file, flexing in the proper pose to fit through holes in the wall. Obviously!
The All DSi Band
If you know a musician with a DSi, who could make something wonderful with some on-the-go composition tools, there are plenty to choose from. Even better -- if you've got a group of musically-inclined, DSi-toting friends, you could be responsible for the formation of a DS-only band. Please make this happen as soon as possible.
Rytmik&Rytmik: Rock Edition (DSiWare) - 800 & 200 DSi Points / $8 & $2
This pair of apps allows players to arrange collections of samples into original compositions.
Music On [series] (DSiWare) - 200 DSi Points each / $2 ea.
This series includes six different virtual instruments, designed to teach (and emulate) piano, electric keyboard, guitars and more.
Electroplankton[series] (DSiWare) - 200 DSi Points each / $2 ea.
Developer Toshio Iwai's experimental audiovisual toys are available individually through DSiWare. [Eds. note: Okay, so we cheated a little. The DSiWare Electroplankton series was released in 2009.]
The Busy Gamer
Even though there are longer-form experiences like Cave Story on DSiWare (see our "Longterm" category below), there are also plenty of bite-sized games around, as would be expected of a portable system. These represent some of the most interesting short-session games available this year.
Sometimes you want to play Tetris on the go. As it turns out, "sometimes" is "any time anyone wants to play Tetris."
If your giftee likes his or her games novel, inventive or, to put a fine point on it, weird, here are a few recommendations to help expand his or her gaming horizons beyond the expected.
Maestro: Green Groove (DSiWare) - 500 DSi Points / $5
Based on a DS rhythm-action game that didn't leave Europe, Green Groove involves guiding a bird across strings by strumming them to the beat of the music.
Photo Dojo (DSiWare) - 200 DSi Points / $2
The weirdest thing about this fighting game isn't that it makes sprites out of your photos. The weirdest is that it's designed for two players ... simultaneously ... on one DS.
16 Shot! Shooting Watch (DSiWare) - 200 DSi Points / $2
Originally a toy produced by Hudson, this is gaming boiled down to its barest elements. Push a button as many times as you can in ten seconds! Use this to train your fingers for improved skill in shooters. Or just enjoy the strangely compelling, addictive "gameplay" on its own merits.
Longterm Portable Gamer
Just because it's a handheld system -- and because it's a download service -- is no reason for there to be no "meaty," full-game experiences on DSiWare. Each of the games in this list provides the kind of depth and production values you'd expect from something you'd have to go into a store to buy.
Shantae: Risky's Revenge (DSiWare) - 1200 DSi Points / $12
The long-awaited sequel to WayForward's Game Boy Color platformer about a belly-dancing, shapeshifting half-genie was originally intended to be episodic. In the end, WayForward just decided to cram all the episodes into one download, which is now Metacritic's highest-rated DS game of 2010. Not DSiWare game -- DS game.
This isn't just a retail-quality game, it actually was a retail game before being released on DSiWare. Developed by the team that would go on to make WiiWare's Zombie Panic in Wonderland, this one is also about fairy-tale characters dodging and shooting zombies.
This abstract 3D shooter is sort of like Tron, with tanks. It's also designed by Q-Games' Dylan Cuthbert (renowned for his studio's PixelJunk games on PlayStation Network), who previously worked with Nintendo on games like Star Fox ... and X, the Japan-only Game Boy predecessor to this game.